Creamed spinach is one of my secret pleasure foods. I love the smooth texture, the taste of cream and nutmeg, and the slightly minerally, clean aftertaste of the spinach. To my mind, nothing goes better with a thick slab of prime rib than a Yorkshire pudding and some warm creamed spinach, topped with a flurry of salty Parmesan cheese.
Not everyone appreciates my tastes though. Some people like their spinach to have some more kick, some more zing, and some more heft.
For those people, the way to go is saag paneer. This Indian spinach dish is insanely easy to make, with mostly frozen ingredients, very little fat, and a few spices that you already – or at least, should – have in your kitchen.
Paneer is an Indian farmer’s cheese that is firm, a little salty, and cooks up beautifully, so it is crisp without and soft within. If you can’t find it, substitute halloumi – it should work perfectly.
Oh yeah, and I also threw in cauliflower, just because cauliflower is mighty tasty.
Saag Paneer (loosely adapted from Serious Eats)
14.4 oz. package frozen cut spinach
1 10 oz. bag cauliflower
1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt, plus more to garnish
3 tbsp. butter
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
2 serrrano chiles, diced
1 – 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 package paneer or halloumi cheese, diced into cubes
1 tbsp. curry powder
2 tsp. each ginger, cumin, and coriander
salt and pepper, to taste
cilantro, chiles, and onions to garnish (optional)
4. Add the stock and stir until the spinach has started to defrost and wilt. Cover and let boil for about 20 minutes, checking to make sure that the spinach is not burning. Add more chicken stock if it seems to get absorbed too quickly.
5. Meanwhile, put the paneer in a very hot, dry nonstick skillet, and sear on one side until it is very golden brown. This should take about 2 minutes. Flip and do the same on the other side. You need not do it to every side, but it really should be crispy on at least 2 sides. Once it is cooked, set it aside on a plate.
Okay, so maybe creamed spinach isn’t totally where it’s at. Because this…is…awesome. Creamy and tangy from the Greek yogurt, with the bite of chile and aromatic ginger. The paneer is squeaky and crunchy next to tender-crisp cauliflower and the blanket of rich spinach. This is perfect served alongside daal and some steamed basmati rice. The best thing is…it actually tastes better a day later, and even better the day after that. The flavors really develop and mingle the longer that it sits, and the spinach’s clean flavor mixes with the chile’s heat and the sweet taste of the caramelized onion. This is both hearty and healthy, something nice as we head into the meant-heavy winters.
I’ll never give up creamed spinach, but I surely am glad that I was forced to look outside my comfort zone.